A couple of days ago, the last space shuttle launch took place at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. As someone who grew up only knowing the space shuttle program, it was truly the end of an era. I certainly wasn’t the only one who got misty eyed to watch Atlantis lift from the launch pad and start its eight minute journey to orbit. From reading my various social media outlets, there were some strong feelings about the ending of the program and what the future of space exploration would entail. Later that night, the Science Channel had a special on the launch and everything that goes into making it possible; thus, the misty eyes returned once more.
Though I am now a long ways from being one, I shared the same dream as many other children my age did to be an astronaut, gliding high above the Earth right at the edge of a great vast beyond. Since then, I’ve traded one space for another, one of stars and planets for one of information and data. But that still doesn’t stop the sense of adventure and curiosity of wanting to go up and see, even as I harbor a well self-fabricated fear of flying. The desire for visceral tangible adventure is the product of the sensory creatures that human beings are; it is one that cannot be achieved through the online existence that many have settled for having.
It’s a pity that the majority of my memories around the space program come from the disasters associated with it. I remember where I was for the Challenger disaster (third grade and the fortune not seeing it live on television; I would see it later on the news that night). I remember where I was for the Columbia disaster (at home in my apartment in Delaware watching CNN on the tiny television that was in the bedroom). In between, there were launches and space walks, talk of space stations (first Mir and then current International one), and the transient interest of television reporters talking about budget cuts to the space program. Even now, the next generation of space telescopes is at risk of being shelved. And I feel frustrated once more.
I do wonder if the kids in elementary school now will still want to be astronauts when they grow up. I would hope so. And I would hope that our generation would be working on the next step of space travel to make that possible for them. What is it to dream big if we deny them all of the wonders that lay beyond the clouds? There must always be the promise and hope of space; it rests with us to make it possible.
[The title is a quote from the television series Firefly.]